When only a chicken & mushroom pie will do

The last few weeks have flown by and it’s nice to finally have the opportunity to sit down and reflect. We had what felt like a rushed Christmas and New Year, covering nearly 1,000 miles seeing our various family members across the country. And whilst the festivities were lovely and it was nice not to be at work, our attention was somewhat elsewhere despite the busyiness.

We were let down on our house purchase only a couple of days before Christmas so, naturally, at my work Christmas party I hit the red wine with full force! Our agent advised us that whilst the market is always slow in the winter, there was definitely a downturn – and we could see that ourselves.

I was quite content to move back into rented, confident that we would find somewhere to buy within a few months and then we would be in a really good position as ‘first’ time buyers. Sam was more sceptical and even talked about doing up our house a bit more and staying there for another couple of years. I went along with that briefly, but ultimately had to ‘fess up that I simply didn’t have the heart to empty all of the boxes we had already packed (at that stage, the count was 32).

We arrived at my parents’ home on Christmas Eve and discussed the hells of the house buying process whilst baking mince pies and swigging mulled wine. We had a quick look online and I widened our search to include a village which was literally the furthest I would consider living. The house I had loved several months before was still for sale and both Sam and my mum loved it. We decided to view it over New Year. Since then it’s been 100mph!

We loved the house so much we put an offer on it, which was accepted 🙂 the best part was, as it had previously been rented we were able to move in and break the chain for our amazingly tolerant buyers. We are now renting the house for a month whilst the conveyancing goes through and then we will once again be home owners. But this time, of a much larger family home!

We’ve been here 10 days now and it feels like home, not a house. It’s fair to say I was a bit apprehensive on moving day as it felt like the end of an era and I wondered if we had made the right decision. Once our first little home was empty of our belongings it suddenly didn’t feel like a home, it was back to being a house again. It felt strange suddenly realising that it is not the bricks and mortar that make a home, but the items and memories that fill it.

Our new home is wonderful and I am so glad we made the move. My commute is better and that has made me so much happier; I am able to have an extra half hour in bed and still have a whole hour to get myself ready before having to leave, rather than rush about! I’m planning on using this time constructively in the morning to work on my appearance (I sometimes look like I’ve been dragged through a bush backwards) and to make my lunch.

To top it all off, I decided to make a pie today. It’s my favourite food and the ultimate in making me feel content and warm and squishy. This is the life I’ve always wanted; a home smelling of baked bread and cooking, the radio on in the background whilst I leaf through my bookcase and think about what the next novel should be. I’m sat at our breakfast bar typing this with a mug of earl grey for company and a big grin on my face!image

Part of my happiness is probably down to my cooker; it is a Rangemaster, a brand and type of cooker I’ve always wanted and the sellers are leaving it here for us for free! Life win, right there.

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So if, like me, you like or LOVE pies, here is my chicken and mushroom pie extraordinaire:

You will need:
Knob of butter
Half an onion, chopped
1 garlic clove
300g mushrooms
4 chicken thighs (boneless)
Dried thyme
1 chicken stock cube
200ml water (boiled)
200ml milk
50g flour
3 tbsp single cream

For the pastry you can either buy ready-made short crust (for the base) and puff pastry (for the top) or you can make it yourself. I’m hopeless with puff pastry so I used a ready-made block but it’s definitely worth making the shortcrust yourself if you can:
200g flour
125g butter
1 beaten egg
1 tbsp water

Bake!
1. To make the filling melt the butter in the pan and added the chopped onions and garlic. When golden add the mushrooms. Chop the chicken into small bite sized pieces and add.

 

 


2 Leave to cook, stirring occasionally, Add the thyme and salt and pepper as necessary to season and mix up the stock with the water.
3. Once the chicken is no longer pink, add the flour and slowly add the milk, Then add the stock and stir. You want to keep it on a low heat so that it is only simmering. 4. Add the cream and stir. As soon as the sauce is thick and creamy take it off the heat to cool.image
5. Now for the pastry. First make up the shortcrust base by either rolling out your pre-made dough or by making your own. Mix the flour and butter together with your fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg and water and scoop up the flour mixture so that it it becomes a doughy ball. Now roll out so that it is just bigger than your pie dish.
6. Place the shortcrust base into the dish then spoon in the filling.
7. Roll out your puff pastry and place on top. If you are very good then you should be able to slip your knife into the outer edge of the puff pastry to loosen it. That will help it to rise and puff!
8. Then brush on some beaten egg round the edges and on top and bake in the oven for c.45minutes at 180-200 degrees.

Et voila!image

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Perfect pie if I do say so myself. I hope you enjoy it

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My body: coming to terms

A few weeks ago I posted about a calorie-tracking app that I was testing and my struggles with weight-loss generally.

Last year I put on a few pounds in the lead up to my wedding, and then more than half a stone after the wedding. It wasn’t until late August when were having a weekend break in Paris did I feel truly uncomfortable and decided to do something about it.

I joined a gym. Standard, I know. But I’ve always been ‘in’ to exercise – cardio mostly. But exercise doesn’t help you lose weight. It makes you feel better about yourself initially because you are doing the right thing for your body. But then after a few weeks you get quite despondent because you aren’t seeing results, or the results aren’t as quick as you would like. And then you slip up, eating junk food you’ve been desperately trying to avoid and before you know it your diet is over and its not even been a month. Your gym membership feels like a burden – a monthly cost you can’t afford and time out of your day when you’d rather be at home. You know the drill. The circle. The ups and downs. Call it what you want but most people, no matter where there are on their weight loss / healthy lifestyle journey will have been there.

You need to address your diet. And that is the biggest change you can make, I think. If you are very overweight and have had a truly bad diet then its going to feel like you have to traverse a mountain. For others who are looking to shift a few pounds or a few stone, its possible, but you may not know what is wrong with your diet in the first place. Too much food, obviously, but what changes do you make? And where do you begin? Do you reduce your carbs, increase your protein intake, cut out alcohol/sweets/takeaways?

I started using a calorie tracking app because even though I’m fairly savvy and know roughly how many calories are in many foods, I think there are a lot of hidden calories in things you don’t really think about: cooking oil, ketchup etc. And my first discovery? 1,600 calories (my daily number of calories to lose a pound a week apparently) is LOW.

1,600 calories looks like this.

This is a typical ‘good’ day for me:

Breakfast: wholegrain toast with butter and a cup of tea [total calories 204]

Snack 1: banana [103 calories] and a KitKat [106 calories]

Lunch: Slim Fast shake [203 calories]

Snack 2: pear [103 calories] sometimes I have a nectarine instead and these are slightly lower in calories

Dinner: Spaghetti Bolognaise [spaghetti [249], quorn mince [150], chopped tomatoes [47], mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and courgette [101], grated cheese [82]. Total calories 630

Evening snack: chocolate biscuit x3 [240]

TOTAL FOR DAY: 1,589

As you can see, I am having at least two pieces of fruit and vegetables with my evening meal. Yes, I have had a chocolate bar in the morning but I get up very early and have a long commute so 10am is middle of the day for me! Plus KitKats are the lowest calorie chocolate I can find.

Many will say a Slim Fast shake for lunch I shall neither healthy nor sustainable, but I find it help she me monitor my calories to keep them low during the day.  I am very much an evening eater so if I didn’t restrict my calories at lunch time I’d be gaining rather than losing weight.

Having recorded my calories every single day for 60 days, I realised that seeing it all written down really encouraged me to eat better. But just half a biscuit or one more piece of fruit on top, and I’d be over my total for the day. Its hard especially when you see how little you are eating but how many calories are in those items!

I haven’t made a huge overhaul to my diet as I eat fairly healthily anyway. My downfall is portion size and snacking. Swapping unhealthy items for fruit has been hard because I never used to like fruit, and even now there are very few fruits I will eat. But I’m getting there and, more importantly, I’m enjoying it.

Reducing my portion sizes has been the biggest lesson. Pasta or rice the size of my fist on a plate rather than taking up most of the plate :/ I still look down and think “the plate is half empty”  but after a few days and weeks your stomach muscle starts to shrink so you don’t feel as hungry and get full up on less.

This makes me sound like I’m starving myself – I’m not, I just had huge plates of food before.I come from a family where finishing everything on your plate is encouraged and piled high. Not stop when you’re full up.  I now try to only put on the plate what I want to eat and I think is a reasonable amount to eat and that takes time to learn. You really have to listen to your body.

So, after trying my damned hardest and some 9 months after I first decided to make some changes, I reached my ‘goal weight’. I did have some problems with my scales (they kept saying a different number every time) so I can’t be sure exactly how much I’ve lost, but I think it is about a stone. I’m pretty pleased because I’ve lost it in a sustainable way even though its taken far longer than most other people.

Here are the things I’ve learnt along the way:

  1. Look at your portion sizes. Your stomach is supposedly the size of a grapefruit. Imagine it stretching with too much food!
  2. Carbs are good in moderation. Everything is good in moderation but carbs are not evil. Eating pasta or rice will not make you put weight on unless you are eating to excess.
  3. Introducing fruit and more vegetables is not hard; add an extra vegetable to your evening meal and swap a snack for fruit during the day.
  4. There are a lot of calories in meat! Having meatballs instead of quorn mince adds an extra 400 calories to your spaghetti meal! Plus there is more fat. I’m at an advantage in that my parents are vegetarian and I’ve grown up familiar with meat alternatives, but I would definitely recommend making a swap once a week.
  5. Exercise helps maintain your weight, but does not help you lose it. You have to change your diet too.
  6. MOVE MORE. Take the stairs, not the lift. I’ve started taking the stairs at the train station instead of the escalator (about 2 floors’ worth) and I feel much better in myself.
  7. There will be foods you love but which you realise are not good for you. Bread does not agree with me. Just making a simple change from white to whole grain has been astronomical. I don’t feel bloated, lethargic or uncomfortable. Listen to your body – you don’t have to cut it out just find an alternative.

This is old news, I know that. But it’s not a fad diet, just simple obvious decisions to lead a more healthy lifestyle. Find something that motivates you; an outfit, an old picture, anything. Don’t be negative if you take your time to get there like I did, enjoy the journey and think about what you’ve learned. Try to make those little changes last a lifestyle and maybe you’ll never need to crash diet again.

Ive only lost a stone and could do with losing more, but I’m happy where I am at the moment. I’m now turning my attention to the outside of my body and to firming it up. I’ve been doing a basic routine of sit ups, crunches, leg lifts, russian twists etc at the gym plus my usual short run, and my tummy has become much flatter as a result. I’m going to try and improve my legs now and get some tone. Wish me luck! I have no idea what I’m doing and only bought kettle bells the other day, but its the trying that counts.

And whilst doing that, focusing on eating right; not clean, but healthy nutritious food with the odd naughty treat!

Everyone is in the same boat; just because they don’t talk about their body hang ups doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Stay positive!

On the road to achievement; maintaining a positive mindset

A few weeks ago I posted a brief blog about my battle with the bulge. Four weeks on, my weight has not changed much. Maybe one or two pounds, but that’s it. Having made a significant effort since the New Year to eat healthily and really focus on my food choices, I’ve been quite deflated at the minimal weight loss I’ve achieved.

I first realised I need to shift at least half a stone in August/September 2016. I joined a gym and started having a Slim Fast drink for lunch and only two healthy snacks during the day. Slim Fast has been the only way I can limit my calorie intake during the day and still feel full; I lost a stone in 6 weeks a few years back so I know it works if I put my mind to it. I kept my usual wholewheat toast for breakfast and would eat a balanced evening meal. By Christmas I was feeling much slimmer and fitted into sparkling pencil skirt for my work Christmas ‘do. In reality, I’d only lost about 4 pounds, but my tummy wasn’t bloated as much.

So, in the New Year I tried to stay positive. We booked a holiday to Greece for the summer and I suddenly thought “that’s 6 months away. That’s enough time to do something about my weight. I want to be slim and [foolishly], I want an ‘Instagram’ body”. So I carried on at the gym but started doing some floor work as well as using the cross-trainer; I did my first ab crunch in January and haven’t looked back! I can now do 40 ab crunches quite quickly, plus 40 bicycle ab crunches as well as squats, a plank and Russian twists.

My waist has slimmed down – and I’ve put this down to the Russian twists which really work my oblique muscles.

But I have only lost a couple more pounds to be my current weight. The problem I have is that I found out my scales were broken in February 2017 so its actually quite hard to work out how much weight I have lost. On the basis that my previous scales were slightly light, I was probably far heavier than I thought last August. So in all, I have probably lost about half a stone.

I really struggle to lose weight – it takes me ages to do it properly. A pound a week never mind a month is hard. My weight seems to stabilise for weeks on end, then suddenly drops a pound. Then stabilises, then drops a pound. I wouldn’t mind but when you are limiting your calories, working out 3 times a week and recording all of your food in an app, you’d think you’d lose weight faster. Feeling deflated is an understatement. On a couple of occasions I’ve had a chocolate biscuit after dinner or a slice of cheese when I get in from work (my days are long from commuting) and feel guilty, but on those days I’d already weighed myself and knew I hadn’t lost weight from being good!

I’m not a secret eater. I can remember everything that passes my lips for the last week and am honest about my calorie intake and if I go over.

I follow a couple of high-profile fitness fanatics, who I won’t name, on Instagram. The intention was to feel motivated during the day by seeing lots of ‘before and after’ pictures in the hope that it would keep me on the straight and narrow. The strange thing is, it has.

Although my body hasn’t changed much, my mind set has. I feel I am coming to understand the ‘love your body’ mantras the health and fitness world talk about all the time. Keep positive. Focus on the end goal but enjoy the journey in between. Goal posts move. Instead of just wanting to lose a few pounds (and, I admit, still wanting an ‘Instagram body’), I wanted to be fit. Strong. Toned.

So the last 6 weeks I have focused on trying to be strong. Well, as strong as you can be from just cross-training and doing squats and sit-ups without any weights! And then this week I thought, why not? I see people at the gym who are of a similar build to me – slightly overweight but not majorly – and they seem to be able to do it. Granted, I am worried about hurting myself but I have always been into fitness so I’m not stupid and know that form and technique are important. So, I’m buying some kettlebells this weekend! I’ve looked up 3-5 simple exercises I can do with them at home and I’m hoping they will help me tone up. If I can get toned I wouldn’t need to lose much weight at all.

I guess I feel like I’ve turned full circle. From enjoying sport and team games at school to joining various gyms and running as an adult. Now I realise that running is not sustainable for me long-term as a hobby (my knees are ruined to put it lightly), so whilst I may train for the odd charity run, I can’t do too much more than that. But suddenly the focus isn’t on just doing something to say I do it. Its about me. About feeling strong and able. I want to be one of those 50 year-olds who are trim and exude a classic, healthy wellbeing. This isn’t short-term. I want to keep this mind-set my whole life.

So, the scales may not be moving much, but I figure that life is about balance. I do eat a healthy diet full of fresh vegetables and fruit. I don’t drink much, I don’t smoke. The odd biscuit and toast is not going to hurt.

I feel like I can do this. Its only 6 weeks until my holidays (I can’t believe it was 6 months not long ago!) so these kettlebells had better have some effect! And, even though it is only likely to be a minimal change, any change is good and hopefully I can build on this and achieve the body I know is there, just hidden from view.

My reference to an ‘Instagram’ body may seem immature, but its not about the look. Its about feeling healthy and I guess I attributed that to being slim (and in a glossy picture). I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the last few months. Not necessarily things I can put into words but how I feel about myself and how I want to live my life. I think the next year will be the hardest as I try to achieve my goals, but then I have countless years ahead of me to (hopefully) maintain that. I’m actually excited.

I’m going to post occasionally about how this health and wellbeing journey is going for me; it won’t be all smooth-sailing but I figure that as long as I cling on to the positives I can make it there, no matter how long it takes. The feeling that you’re trying is far better than that of regret.